[Cross-posted from Ghost in the Wire]
I think that one of the fundamental points of confusion in Heidegger's Being and Time comes when, in analyzing why it is that human beings so often ignore their being or Dasein, choosing the crowd over resolute and authentic existence, thereby voiding the Eigen in Eigentlichkeit. Heidegger characterizes it this way: Dasein is "dispersed into the 'they' and must find itself." This dispersal is, for Heidegger, part of the existential structure of Dasein, and as a consequence Heidegger offers no substantive discussion of the means or methods of this dispersal, at least not back in 1927 (arguably the "turn" towards historicity and the forgetting of Being may offer an explanation for it, but that comes some years later).
I think that one productive way to address this question is to consider the overall project of Being and Time, which is really an analytic of the subjectivity of Dasein, even if it distances itself from subjectivity as understood in Western metaphysics. What I mean is that the investigation of Dasein starts by investigating Dasein itself as the subject of the analysis, and so there remains a bit of an emphasis on the subjectal determination of the world, which I think you can see in the discussion of "thrownness" and the "call of conscience." Again this changes later, as Heidegger explicitly admits this as a limitation of his early work, altering his analytical emphasis away from Dasein in his On Time and Being, and elsewhere segues from the "call of conscience" to the "call of being." Still, without necessarily following Heidegger's turn, we can look at this "error" as a productive one.
To do so, we can begin to think a brief bit about Walter Benjamin, whose work had a considerable emphasis on Baudrillard's thought.
Benjamin's most famous essay, his "Work of Art in the Age of Technical Reproducibility," tackles an issue that may seem somewhat tangential or secondary for Heidegger: the role of new production technologies in changing the nature of the object. But of course it's not tangential at all, since the worldliness that Heidegger writes about in Being and Time is, if we believe Benjamin, in part called into question by these new representational technologies.
Take as an example the medium Benjamin discusses most prominently in that essay: film. With its manipulation of reality via the shifting perspective of the camera and the special effects it enables, the film undoes some of the standards of representation that structure the subject apperception of the object. Or as Benjamin puts it, film’s “social significance” is “inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage.” By the liquidation of traditional value, he means to imply that these new technologies, and the ease with which they reproduce themselves as representations, ruptures the sense of history that traditional objects of art once engendered. Benjamin's words:
The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from is substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced. Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object.
In other words, for Benjamin the authenticity of an object anchors itself in the object’s aura, “the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be.” With technologically reproduced objects, the aura is lost, contaminated by the lack of distance between the audience (an ambiguity) and the object. We might clarify, following Heidegger, that the object becomes more readily present-at-hand; it becomes something like a standing-reserve, constantly put to the work of being available for display. The dissipation of aura, its loss of proximity, severs the object’s status as a signifier of an historical, cultural tradition and instantiates the object as a signifier of the object’s present political moment.
Obviously we're working with two different senses of authenticity, though those two senses are not that far apart. Heidegger is talking about the authentic existence of Dasein, its resolute existence, which is for Heidegger a "good," and Benjamin's talking about the loss of authenticity of the object of art, which for Benjamin is also a "good."
Put the Benjamin aside and on hold for a bit, and just let it simmer. Let's recall that Heidegger spends a lot of Being and Time concerned with the way metaphysics has built up a system of thought that hides the more primordial and fundamental ontological question of Being. The separation of beings from Being and the myth of objective reality are all rather essential backdrops for Heidegger's project.
So too for Baudrillard's thought, though for different reasons than the early Heidegger. I think that, and i'll just go ahead and make this clear up front, we can think of Baudrillard's career in many ways as an alternate attempt to deal with the point of confusion identified above in Heidegger. It does so not by reorienting the analysis such that it privileges temporality over the subjectivity of Dasein, but by displacing any question of the subjectal with the objectal, which is to say that Baudrillard explains the dispersal of Dasein into das Man by exposing the subject's overdetermination by the object. As Charles Levin explains, in his book on Baudrillard:
No subject can be posited without an object: the object creates the space-time of thought, and its ontic discreteness (its ‘readiness at hand’, as Heidegger might say) serves as the model for the social individual, as both agency and entity – as a thing that wills. (Emphasis mine.)
We can find a concrete illustration of this modeling (and an extension of Heidegger’s question concerning technology) in Baudrillard’s early writings on automatism in System of Objects, where automatism is understood as the self-sufficiency of the object. The object as automation comes about because of and mirrors the desire for ease and lack of responsibility that Heidegger identifies in Dasein’s allegiance to das Man. Responsibility is lost, and more of the functions of the subject are ceded to the object. In turn, the object appears less flexible, less functional, a trick that affirms the subject-object dialectic: the subject believes the object is designed to serve (to fulfill a need) while the object assumes responsibility for the subject. Baudrillard explains:
Automatism amounts to a closing-off, to a sort of functional self-sufficiency which exiles man to the irresponsibility of a mere spectator. Contained within it is the dream of a dominated world, of a formally perfected technicity that serves an inert and dreamy humanity.
Is this not the same fear articulated by Heidegger’s discussion of the ordering of Gestell (enframing) in his later lectures on technology? The inert, standing-reserve of humanity—its destiny prefigured by the service of automation. Automation fulfills the destiny of enframing in the manifestation of the technological object, or to put it in terms slightly more in Baudrillard's idiom, the subject's enjoyment of automation produces the "object as destiny." Of course, Baudrillard never considers the object to be merely a material entity, even back in 1968, arguing that the object is always already a form, not a content, an argument that will later be fulfilled and taken to its heuristic limits in his arguments about the political economy of the sign. Since the object is formal, since it is inscribed in a system of cultural significations, and because the object is always in that sense locked in an antagonism with its subject, Baudrillard's insight is to recognize that the object transfigures enframing from merely a way of ordering the world to something like a constitutive existentiale of the subject. In this sense, its essence is not technological but imaginary; the object defines the subject in relation to the image of itself. Baudrillard again:
Automatism is king, and its fascination is indeed so powerful precisely because it is not that of a technical rationality; rather, we come under its spell because we experience it as a basic desire, as the imaginary truth of the object, in comparison with which the object’s structure and concrete function leave us cold.
The comfortable familiarity of the automated object lulls us into a subjective complacency, where we equate its action with our own: “At all events, whatever the functioning of the object may be…we invariably experience it as OUR functioning." The automated object forces a grand misrecognition, a mystification of humanity that redefines human agency as a mastery of technology without realizing that the reliance on automation actually atrophies subjectal agency. Small wonder then that Baudrillard jovially remarks: “The object is in fact the finest of domestic animals – the only ‘being’ whose qualities exalt rather than limit my person… they all converge submissively upon me and accumulate with the greatest of ease in my consciousness.”
At this point, it's useful to recall Benjamin's discussion of the authenticity of the object, which relates somewhat obviously to the discussion of Baudrillard thus far, in that it is technological reproducibility that makes automation and the rise of the object possible. But there is a more interesting, though more subtle, way of integrating Benjamin's insight into aura. I quoted Baudrillard earlier as suggesting that we experience automatism as the "imaginary" of the object. in that the object is experienced primarily neither at the level of the symbolic or the Real. We're in the Lacanian register here, obviously, but Baudrillard is way too savvy and antagonistic to simply accept Lacan's terminology. What if the imaginary and the Real also functioned via an auratic economy? We would need to rethink the relation between the registers.
Lacan, for example, was very clear in thinking that the imaginary first comes about through the encounter with a mirror object that is primarily (alright, exclusively) static. But if the object is as ascendant as Baudrillard thinks it is, and this is true because of its mechanical reproduction, its automatism, then to a certain extent it becomes ascendant through the collapse of aura; the fall of latter makes possible the rise of the former, so to speak. And since the object is always already formal, we can rest assured that whatever happens with the imaginary, it will be tainted by the symbolic that governs the object's incorporation. This is why, still in System of Objects, Baudrillard will describe the object as "in the strict sense of the word a mirror, for the images it reflects can only follow upon one another without ever contradicting one another. And indeed, as a mirror the object, is perfect, precisely because it sends back not real images, but desired ones." If the image that the object provides is the desired one, then we might be tempted to think that desire governs perception, and that in this sense, Baudrillard's object is still subjectal in the sense I talked about with Heidegger's analytic of Dasein, and, well, that would be true. But even back in 1968, he is confident in asserting that the imaginary is in turn determined by the technological and media environment:
We may take comfort in the fact that even if objects sometimes escape practical human control, they never escape the imagination. Modes of the imaginary follow modes of technological evolution, and it is therefore to be expected that the next mode of technical efficiency will give rise to a new imaginary mode. At present, its traits are difficult to discern, but perhaps, in the wake of the animistic and energetic modes, we shall need to turn our attention to the structures of a cybernetic imaginary mode whose central myth will no longer be that of an absolute organicism, nor that of an absolute functionalism, but instead that of an absolute interrelatedness of the world.
Alright, I don't want this post to go on forever, and so I won't go too far beyond the Baudrillard of System of Objects, as all I am trying to highlight at this point is how the early Baudrillard project really does provide a way of explaining how it is that Dasein gets dispersed into the They: the object sucks the subject away by means of a fluid and ever changing imaginary. The imaginary is both a projection of desire and the product of a system of signification that exceeds the subject, that is determined by the exchange and economy of objects, and that is influenced by the different auratic economies of the technological and media environment. To this extent, we can really consider Baudrillard one of the more legitimate heirs of Heidegger's project.
Now, I should say that the subjectal residue in early Baudrillard does not survive for very long in Baudrillard's thought. Less than a decade later, first in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign and then in the brilliant Symbolic Exchange and Death, the code comes to replace and overdetermine the imaginary, and in so doing Baudrillard will largely put to death the Lacanian registers (literally, he'll pose the problem of death in so much as death is always already the imaginary of the real). And shortly thereafter, he'll follow his own logic in the discussion of the Code and move into the discussion of simulation, simulacra, and eventually end up in his discussion of integral reality. But all of that comes from an initial project designed to explain the relation between object and subject, and the way that those objects form a system that responds to a particular media ecology, which is, of course, the same ecology that haunted Heidegger's analytic of Dasein.